Study Identifies Early Colon Cancer Symptoms To Aid In Timely Diagnosis

Rates of early-onset colon cancer — that is, colon cancer that is diagnosed in those below the age of 55 — have climbed from 11% of cases in 1995 to 20% in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society (via NBC News). Currently the second-leading cause of cancer death in men and women across the country, colorectal cancer is projected to be responsible for the greatest number of cancer deaths in those under 50 years of age by 2030, reports Fight Colorectal Cancer.

Routine screenings are critical for the early diagnosis and treatment of colon cancer, and are now recommended starting at the age of 45. Although numbers of colon cancer screenings have increased over the years, rates of early-onset colon cancer have continued to rise. In a new study conducted by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, scientists gathered health data on 5,075 adults diagnosed with early-onset colorectal cancer. Based on this data, the study team identified four key red-flag symptoms seen three months to two years preceding patient diagnosis that were linked with greater risk for the condition.

Four symptoms linked with early-onset colorectal cancer risk

As outlined in the study, the four main symptoms identified were abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, diarrhea, and iron deficiency anemia. Additionally, risk of early-onset colorectal cancer was found to further increase based on how many symptoms a patient experienced. Patients were nearly twice as likely to later be diagnosed with the condition if they had one symptom. Patients with two symptoms stood at a 3.5 times greater risk, and those with at least three symptoms were 6.5 times more susceptible to early-onset colorectal cancer. Prompt endoscopy and follow-up was especially important in connection to rectal bleeding and iron deficiency anemia, the researchers found.

"Colorectal cancer is not simply a disease affecting older people," senior investigator Dr. Yin Cao stated in a press release. "[W]e want younger adults to be aware of and act on these potentially very telling signs and symptoms — particularly because people under 50 are considered to be at low risk, and they don't receive routine colorectal cancer screening." In addition to individuals being aware of these potential warning signs, the study team also emphasized the need for increased awareness amongst the medical community to aid in early detection efforts.